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HIGH SCHOOL UNDERCOVER : The LAPD Sent Rookie Sharon Fischer to Buy Drugs. She Succeeded, But Paid With Her Career. Did the Discipline, She Now Asks, Fit the Deed?

December 27, 1987|MARGY ROCHLIN | Margy Rochlin is a writer who lives in Los Angeles.

IT IS 10:03 on a summer Friday night, and along with her parents, 23-year-old Sharon Fisch er sits in the makeup room at Channel 9, waiting to make her talk-show debut on "John Barbour's Live Friday Night Talk Show" (a now-defunct television program). She is wearing a white cotton skirt and a turquoise-blue blouse, and her white earrings, shaped like tree leaves, offset her frosted blond hair, which is worn in the manner of Vanna White.

The only sign of pre-show jitters Fischer has shown is that she lightly fiddles with her fingernails, which are as long as fork tines and painted a deep pink. "I'm nervous," she suddenly blurts out to her parents, Robert and Sherry Fischer, who have accompanied her this evening. It is the first thing she has said in nearly a quarter of an hour, and her words, weighted by this sudden confession, seem to hang in the air.

"How do I follow Danny Glover and Fred Travalena?" she ventures tremulously about the guests who will precede her.

"Now, Sharon," Sherry, her mother, says of the celebrities, "remember: They have things that we want, and we have things that they want."

"Oh," says Fischer, "you mean that they'd want to be fired from the Los Angeles Police Department?"

Eleven months ago, Sharon Fischer was working for an arm of the LAPD called the School Buy program, a unit that specializes in sending dewy- skinned officers on drug-purchasing missions at local high schools. Her half-hearted joke refers to the fact that on Feb. 20, 1987, it was decided by the LAPD that while she worked undercover at Kennedy High School in Granada Hills, she did her job not sensibly but a little too well. The day after she helped in the arrest of seven students and one adult, a cache of six blush-worthy notes that Fischer had written to a student was forwarded to the LAPD. An Internal Affairs investigation determined that, along with having written the letters, Fischer had maintained an "improper" relationship with the student, 17-year-old Akili Calhoun, who by all accounts had no connection whatsoever to the Kennedy High drug demimonde. By "improper," they meant that she did something as simple as telephoning him at his home, and as provocative as, in the stilted language of official reports, allowing him to "fondle her breasts and her buttocks."

She denied all the charges, with the exception of the phone call. "There were some notes," she says, "but that was it. I never had any kind of relationship with him." More than one eyewitness would say otherwise. (Because of the controversy surrounding her actions at the school, charges against the seven students were hurriedly dropped. Only the adult saw prosecution.)

Fischer's case raised several embarrassing and fundamental questions about the 13-year-old School Buy program. In his defense of Sharon Fischer, her lawyer, Michael P. Stone, would challenge the wisdom of unleashing inexperienced and, some believe, inadequately trained officers among the delicate teen-age egos on a high school campus. There was also the matter of pitting novice cops against equally inexperienced drug dealers. (The danger of this arrangement was underscored tragically last October : A 21-year-old police officer working undercover at a high school in Midlothian, Tex., was executed by two students who shot him twice in the back of the head with a .38-caliber revolver.)

Of course, the criticism that Sharon Fischer's story drew to the School Buy program wasn't unique. For years, the project has been vilified by community-action groups, and the American Civil Liberties Union considers it an infringement on teen-agers' constitutional rights. The School Buy program is also a favored project of Police Chief Daryl F. Gates, who happens to be its local creator. Because Fischer was still on probationary status--police officers must serve 18 months before they're considered full-fledged employees--it was also Gates who dismissed her. On June 17, Stone filed a petition with the California Superior Court in an attempt to secure his client the right to a new--and, he says, more just--employee disciplinary hearing.

The scandal attracted enough press attention to make Fischer a minor celebrity. She's received supportive fan mail and modeling requests and has been interviewed in print and on television. So many phone calls poured in from production companies hoping to buy her story rights that Fischer hired Allan M. Kassirer, a business manager who also represents consumer activist David Horowitz, to sort through the offers. "My goal," says Kassirer, "is not to make her a media star. My goal is to make her story known. And I think the most effective way of doing that is through a well-told TV movie, which if it's made, in fact, will reach tens of millions of people." The Fischer family likes to tease Sharon that her part will be played by actress Heather Locklear.

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